One of the stars at this year’s Lemonade Days Festival was a Belgian Malinois named Hank. Surrounded by kids, he was so calm he didn’t mind little hands petting his head from behind – something I would have never tried with my miniature poodle.
Hank is a K9 with the Dunwoody Police Department. While he never took his eyes off his handler, DPD Officer Eric Drum, and the yellow rubber tug toy in Drum’s hand, Hank was definitely there for the people.
Hank and his fellow DPD K9, Ranger, a Dutch shepherd, are not the typical attack dogs of moviedom. They’re sniffing dogs, trained to find narcotics, trail lost people or suspects and search for weapons and contraband.
The trainer at Highland Canine Training in Harmony, North Carolina, said Hank couldn’t have been a bite dog even if she had wanted him to be.
“He’s the best-behaved dog I’ve ever trained. He completely ignored our bite suits,” said Shana Parsnow, who in 2020 had ordered him and Ranger specifically for the DPD as “single-purpose dogs” from a breeder in Poland.
Their disposition and personality requirements were “sociability with people, neutrality with other dogs and environmental stability.” In other words, they would get along with people and other dogs and wouldn’t be afraid of slick floors, highways, loud noises and things other dogs find scary.
The dogs were socialized while in Poland and trained in German to basic commands. While they were still there, the Dunwoody PD held a contest in which voters renamed them Hank and Ranger.
When they arrived at Highland in early 2021, Hank was two years old, and Ranger was 18 months. For four months, they underwent rigorous training, which also included being good with children, facilitated by the staff children at the farm where the training facility is located.
Their handlers, Officer Eric Drum (Hank) and Officer Chris Irwin (Ranger), each spent three weeks living and training at the farm. The intense training marked the beginning of a bond for each pair that would soon go beyond work.
“Hank is very mellow. Eric loved that dog from Day One,” Parsnow said. “Ranger is quite hyper. Chris was very patient.”
Since the dogs joined the force last fall, they’ve made possible arrests that would have been otherwise impossible.
“We were called to do a car sniff in Chamblee,” said Irwin. “Ranger alerted, and we found five pounds of crystal methamphetamine. I’m surprised we couldn’t smell it. He pulled me so hard he almost pulled me off my feet.”
Hank helped with another arrest in Chamblee when he and Officer Drum were called for mutual assistance for a stolen vehicle with three armed-robbery suspects inside.
“They jumped out and took off running,” said Drum. “Someone’s house had recorded them on a Ring camera. I cast Hank, and he tracked [two of] them to a general area, with several officers around us. I recast Hank and he ran straight to the third.”
Acquiring the K9s, long on a DPD wish list, might not have happened had it not been for the Dunwoody Police Foundation, founded by Rick Holland in late 2019. After attending the Dunwoody Citizens’ Police Academy, Holland was so impressed by the job the police were doing he wanted to make a financial donation.
Discovering there was no way to make a direct cash contribution to the police, he and a group of citizens founded the Dunwoody Police Foundation, a 501c3, with three goals: provide emergency financial support to individual officers injured on the job, buy special police equipment needed but not budgeted and support DPD outreach. Terry Nall, then a Dunwoody City Council member, helped recruit board members.
Then COVID hit, essentially crippling the new organization. When Nall came off City Council in 2020, he joined the board and donated the remainder of his unsuccessful mayoral campaign account to the Foundation. In 2021, he became board president. Working with the Dunwoody Rotary, the DPF raised enough money to pay for half the $40,000 cost of the dogs, their training and equipment, with the remainder covered by the DPD’s asset forfeiture account.
“It was our largest project so far,” said Nall, who hopes to expand the board and grow membership.
For information on the Dunwoody Police Foundation, go to dunwoodypolicefoundation.org. To meet Hank and Ranger, come to the Foundation booth at the celebration in Dunwoody Village at the end of the 4th of July parade, where they will be greeting fans and giving out souvenirs.